Does your cat run and hide when the doorbell rings? Do your friends not believe that you actually have a cat? It’s not unusual for cats to pull a disappearing act when strangers visit. While some cats are naturally gregarious, others may be cautious with strangers, especially if they haven’t been introduced to many different people during a cat’s prime socialization period (between three to nine weeks of age.) Some cats are just naturally shy. And it’s not helping that visitors often come with other “scary” experiences such as loud voices, large boxes or suitcases being brought into the house, and a general disruption of a cat’s routine.
A cat’s natural instinct, when faced with something unknown, is to keep at a distance and observe. However, if your cat is fearful every time a visitor comes into your home, this creates ongoing stress for your cat. The good news is that, with patience and time, you can help a shy cat overcome her fearful behavior.
Early socialization is key
The more frequently kittens are handled by a variety of people, the friendlier they will be toward humans. But even an older cat can be socialized – it’ll just take a little more patience. Expose your cat to different visitors as much as you can. At the same time, give her treat rewards during socializing so she’ll associate people with a positive experience.
Gradually get your cat used to visitors
Start with a trusted friend who understands cats. Have your visitor knock on the door or ring the doorbell, and only open the door slightly so your cat can see who’s outside. Immediately reward your cat with treats. Once your cat is comfortable, invite your visitor inside. Don’t have the visitor interact with your cat right away, and ask them to avoid making eye contact with your cat unless the cat initiates contact.
Invite your guest to sit down. Use either treats or interactive toys and see if your guest can get your cat curious enough to come closer. Reward her if she comes to investigate or engage with the visitor, but don’t force the issue. Sometimes, simply ignoring the cat will increase her curiosity enough to check out the visitor.
As your cat become more confident, gradually invite over more people over a period of weeks or even months. Always reward your cat every time someone comes to the door.
Don’t force your shy cat to socialize
If your cat is not comfortable with visitors, make sure she has safe hiding place until you’ve had a chance to work on desensitization. Ideally, create a “safe room” for her. Put beds, food, water, toys, and cat trees and scratchers in the room. Depending on your cat’s level of shyness, close the door to the room, or leave it slightly open so she can come and meet your visitors at her own pace.
Never forcefully drag your cat out from her hiding place to meet visitors. You will only increase her fear, and possibly cause her to become aggressive.
Set ground rules for visitors
Restrict visitors to only certain areas of your home so your cat can feel safe roaming around the rest of the house. Don’t allow visitors near your cat’s litter box or feeding station; your cat needs to know that these areas are safe at all times.
Getting a shy cat used to strangers can be a slow process. Be careful not to push your cat too far out of her comfort zone, and never force her to interact with people.